Archive for August, 2008

barbequed goat

we have been eating a lot of goat around here. the kids like it so much they beg for it. this recipe has been the crowd pleaser:

barbequed goat

1 onion, chopped
1/3 c. brown sugar
2 cloves garlic minced
1 t. szeged steak rub (you can buy it on amazon.com )
1 ¼ c. ketchup
1/2 t. cayenne
1/3 c. cider vinegar
2 T. molasses
1/8 t. cloves
1/2 t. salt
1 t. paprika
pinch pepper
2 c. water

mix together and place in bottom of Crockpot. add 4 lbs of stew meat or ribs. cook on low 12 hours, medium 10 hours or high 8 hours.

remove bones, stir back into sauce and serve over bread or rice. goes great with a garden fresh salad.

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Mealtime Experi-Mints

Have you ever been cooking, and accidentally included something besides your anticipated ingredients? That happened to me one day when stirring up some quick-sauteed spinach, something I dearly love. 

I haven’t always loved spinach, especially when the only taste I had of it was from a tin can…ick!  But in recent years, I discovered I like a lot of veggies better if stirred quickly in a heated skillet with a dab of olive oil, sometimes with additions of a pinch of salt, a bit of garlic, a dash of pepper, etc.  I’m not a big al dente fan, but really love seeing the vegetable color brighten and retain much of its freshness, rather than being reduced to a sodden lump of blah.

I’ve used my dehydrator quite a bit since Jack picked one up on sale in the Spring.  I’d just dried some mints one time, when it seems I was also tearing some spinach in the same area.  By the time I’d fired up the ol’ skillet to do a sautee, it seems the mint made it in with the spinach.  I didn’t realize it till we ate it for dinner.  And amazingly, there was a wonderful oomph to the meal.  A few bites into it, I realized it was the mint sauteed right in there with the spinach…an unlikely combination for me.  Had I realized that cultures the world ’round use mint in their savory dishes, salads, and sweets alike, I’d have experimented earlier with my mints, since they’re easy to grow and are so prolific.

I’ve begun adding more and more mints to my everyday dishes…and it matters little what sort of mint, actually…I like to mix them up.  Of course they’re great in tea and in salads, chopped fine.  And sprinkled in with green peas, mmmm!  But now when I make our sauteed spinach, I put about 1 part chopped mint leaves to 2 parts spinach leaves…as a main ingredient, and then sautee it right up.

Here’s a recent lunch with the mints and spinach…I’ve sauteed the spinach and mints lightly together, and then plopped them atop some shredded cheese and flour tortilla.

Then I decided I wanted some sliced leftover grilled chicken, so in they went, too…
I actually made two of them, one each for Jack and myself for lunch. Here’s the minty florentine melt after a brief stint in a heated oven…

Jack is not famous for his adventurousness with his main meals, so I just sort of…um…didn’t mention the mint addition to him, and let him enjoy his food in peace.

He asked what made this taste so good, and when I told him, he just went “hmmm” and quirked his eyebrows. He polished it off, and a bit later returned and told me that he reallllyyyyy liked that meal a lot, especially the mint. He said he liked the flavor, and that it made him feel like he was really energized. I’m not sure how I’d describe it except to say the flavor is excellent and I’ll be trying mint in a lot more ways in savory dishes. Cooked as a vegetable, it’s quite good!

Do you have any herbs or plants you’ve cooked in unfamiliar ways and found you loved?

With something as prolific and easygoing as mint, I’m encouraged that now I have another option when it comes to extending those lunch and dinner meals, flavorfully and nutritionally…

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White Man’s Fly Ice Cream*

Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by Gina

(Subtitle: How to waste several precious animal resources in one decadent swoop!)

There are four types of farm animals here that give me products without requiring me to kill them first: poultry (eggs), cattle & goats (milk), and bees (honey…Hey! How do these pesky insects keep creeping into my posts??). Actually, there are five if you consider the sheep (wool), but I will side-line them for now. I consider all of these products to be gifts from the animals in my care and most get used for simple day-to-day uses like cereal wetter (hmm, spelled differently that would sound a bit disturbing), pancake binder, or tea sweetener. Sometimes, however, you must honor the hard work these animals put into their offerings and create something gold; you must appreciate them all in one, very rich, end-of-summer concerto:

White Man’s Fly (Honey) Ice Cream

1 cup cream (heavier the better!)

3 cups milk

1/2 cup honey (you can add more or less, but you will definitely taste the 1/2 c.)

Vanilla to taste (I use 2 teas.)

8 egg yolks (of course, reserve whites for yummy scrambled eggs with tomatoes & onions!)

Mix cream, milk and vanilla and bring to simmer. While milk is heating, whisk together egg yolks and honey. When milk is simmering over medium heat, add 1/2 cup of milk mixture to egg mixture and whisk until smooth (this tempers the eggs so you don’t make honey scrambled egg ice cream-whole other recipe;)). Add egg mixture to milk mixture and whisk until smooth. Bring back to simmer and whisk constantly. Mixture will eventually thicken (you are essentially making a custard). Put in refrigerator to cool completely. Process in ice cream maker according to type you are using.

Yields 1.5 pints (I know, it’s not much for 8 whole yolks!)

This is creamy, rich and very sweet. If you’ve never made your own ice cream, you’ll note immediately that it does not have the same taste as store bought ice cream. The honey gives it a unique flavor, a flavor of flowers. It’s also very good with nuts like hickory, walnuts and pine nuts (I can only get the first two locally).

Ice Cream Gold (You Can Thank the Livestock later!)

*American Indians called the honey bee “White Man’s Fly”. In early 1600s, hives were shipped to the new colonies of Virginia. Because the honey bee tends to range quite a distance from her hive, she actually explored America before the Europeans. Indians would see the Honey Bee and theorize that “White Man” was not far behind. 

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When I started my own personal blog, Smallmeadowfarm, one of my first posts was about soda pop and the challenge I had given myself to try and stop drinking it. My purpose was to try and eliminate most gmo supplied high fructose corn syrup from my diet of which soda accounted for quite a lot. Unfortunately for me, “kicking my habit” wasn’t as easy as I hoped and I soon found myself standing at the soda pop door begging to be let back in. Even then, when I was writing my blog post, I realized it really wasn’t the sweet sugary part of the beverage I liked so much though, but the carbonated fizzy poppy “crisp” part . I mean…I absolutely won’t drink the beverage if the fizz is even half way reduced. Yik! It just isn’t the same. Double Yik! Also, sometimes you just want a bit more flavor than “plain ole water” and how much easier is it to reach for a soda—I mean they are every where!

Since then my struggle has taken a different road. One of searching for a beverage that I like. Mostly carbonated since that is what I prefer but also sometimes just flavorful and/or low calorie (no fake diet anything for me please). Needless to say there are a few out there that are HFC syrup free and use real sugar but most are still just junk food in a bottle and don’t do much for you other than sparkle on your taste buds. However there is one drink that fits my bill to a T. It’s fizzy (some say with a bit of tart), can be fruity and flavored and is low calorie but with reverting to the use of chemical sugar. This drink is known as….Kombucha. (KOM -boo -CHA) Better even is that Kombucha actually has health benefits. Of course…don’t make any and bottle it with that particular claim because the FDA will come and shut you down. The most they will say is that Kombucha won’t harm you—if properly made.

So, what is Kombucha? Well, for those of you that have never heard of or seen it, it is a fermented beverage made from plain old tea. Black, green with or without herbal (your choice), and a bit of sugar to feed it. It is very similar to yogurts, natural non pasteurized vinegars, and the fermented veggies of Asian origination called kimchi. Sometimes sweeter than other times, some brands can have a tad of vinegar type taste to the first sip—which can be noticeable or completely absent. That particular “trait” is a length of brewing time issue that is correctable—if you don’t like it— and not unpleasant even when it is there. Though Kombucha may not be what I will substitute for my Dr.Pepper on burrito and taco night—most people actually find Kombucha very pleasing to the palate.

One of the biggest pros of Kombucha is that it is something you can make at home AND it’s good, very very good, for your digestive system because of the many beneficial bacterias/yeasts in it. Supposedly drinking some each day can help with allergies, digestive issues, headaches etc. —but don’t tell the FDA I said that.

It can also, with the addition of a bit of sugar or fruit juice at the end of fermentation be bottled and turned into a fizzy, carbonated style drink. Though it’s not quite the same as Dr Pepper or Coke— as I mentioned above—it is “crisp” none the less. Done properly you can “blow the top” off your bottle upon re-opening. Now THAT’s the kind of crispy fizzy I am talking about!

As we all know a healthy digestive tract is a plus. Of course I always thought that meant not having smelly gas all the time or diarrhea. But more and more often we now hear that about 80% of our immune system actually starts and resides in our gastrointestinal tract and fighting things like colds and flu is dependent upon it functioning correctly. This really came home to us when we began to raise sheep and cows. The beneficial bacteria in their system is in a fine balance. Upset that bacterial ratio with incorrect feeds (as in too much corn for CAFO fed cattle) and they can become sick…over and over again. Sick as in requiring antibiotics all the time. Worse even is that antibiotics then kill off most of the bacteria in the digestive tract thus creating a potential for a vicious cycle. Our complete and total health (and the ruminants mentioned above) starts in our gut and relies upon us feeding our good bacteria and flushing or starving our bad bacteria. Hows that for encouraging you to eat right?

Now that I have started you down the path to why you should drink Kombucha….I am going to switch topics of a sorts. Kombucha, along with yogurt, kimchi and apple cider vinegar (vinegar with culture only—-not that pasteurized crap at the regular chain grocery store) and a few other foods are considered probiotic. Probiotics of course feed the health of our system—they are the good bacteria of which I have been speaking. We’ve all heard that a lot in the past years— but did you know there are also PREbiotic foods that you should eat? Prebiotic foods are those foods we’ve been told to eat for many many years now and our grandparents took for granted: whole grains, high fiber foods and more fruits and veggies with their skins on. These foods, using oat fiber as an example, are somewhat indigestible and create bulk which pushes along the digestive tract some of the bad bacteria, so it can be eliminated, while “feeding” the good bacteria. Yes, this is a bit simplistic of an explanation….but I need to keep my posts down to a reasonable size . Prebiotics, or basically a good diet, is just one thing that influences our health. Stress, age and genetics are some of the other key factors. However, I personally like to think most poor health is more of a by product of incorrect eating than any thing else but I am sure there are exceptions to that.

Anyway, if you would like to try and make Kombucha it is really not that hard. It just requires getting a culture from a friend or purchasing one on-line and a large enough glass jar. The actual brewing of Kombucha is so well documented that I am really not going to tell you how to do it here—though I did add a few pics of a mother culture and my container with it brewing away in. I have listed some links at the bottom of this article for you to explore for yourself. Also, to answer Gina’s question from last week—yes we do use filtered water (not distilled) and never regular tap water. Why? Well, one reason is that we have a Big Berkey counter top water filter that we love love love. I mean it– is awesome and no longer do I get the occasional stomach ache when I drink a glass of water (Google stomaches and chloramine if you want to know more about that subject!). Also, for those of you that don’t know about fermenting products and mother cultures: mother cultures are made up of yeasts and bacterias—two things city water is meant to kill with it’s chlorine or chloramine and lots of other supposedly good for us “junk”. Since you just never know what your city water will do to your culture (supposedly well water is in the category too), it is always better to use filtered or distilled water. Both are considered more reliable for the long term health of your mother culture. She can get sickly and weak too and well…you wouldn’t want to negatively affect the growing mother of your future Kombucha and possibly kill it.

So, even if you aren’t ready to take the leap into making Kombucha yet…..look for it at your health food store next time and try it out. You might be surprised at how well you like it. Brands do vary a bit and I personally favor those with fruit juice in them as they have a tendency to be a bit “sweeter” (leaning more towards my style of drink) however my husband, a life long un-sweet tea drinker all his life, also likes the plain. To each his own right?

http://www.happyherbalist.com/kombucha_brewing_guide.htm –basic brewing instructions

http://www.happyherbalist.com/continuous_brewing.htm – continuous brewing instructions if you aren’t interested in bottling

http://www.happyherbalist.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWPROD&ProdID=210 – second stage fermentation for getting more fizz.

http://kombuchatea.tribe.net/thread/e04c5d5f-f994-48b2-891a-15cee65e1a44 — also about secondary fermentation but specifically includes adding a teaspoon of sugar and/or fruit juice for the process to create a sweeter fizzier beverage.

* as a note….I listed mostly the happy herbalist as a reference because their site is well organized and has lots of details. There are many others though and since I acquired my culture from a friend I can not say which mail order place I recommend. I did not, in my search, come across any references that any particular one was a bad place to shop though.

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Coffee Liqueur

Kathie’s Coffee Liqueur


2 Cups Sugar dissolved in 1 1/2 Cups Water

1 Vanilla bean, split and chopped

1/2 Cup Instant Coffee dissolved in 1/2 Cup Water

1 1/2 Cups Vodka

Method: Add the chopped vanilla bean to the sugar and water mixture in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil and boil vigorously for 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat, add the coffee and water mixture, stir well.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  Once cool add the vodka and pour into a jar with a tight fitting lid.  Leave in a cool dark place for one month, shake on the days you remember too.  After a month, strain the mixture and remove the chopped vanilla bean bits.  Bottle in a decorative glass bottle and cork.  You’re ready for gift giving and/or personal drinking.

Notes:Use cheap vodka, there’s enough sugar and flavor from the coffee and vanilla bean that the vodka doesn’t have to be of super quality to taste good.  Don’t skimp on the vanilla bean, it really does add a lot of flavor.  I know they’re expensive, but I’ve found great deals on ebay.  Find nice bottles at the thrift store or ask a bartender friend.  Corks of various sizes can usually be found at the hardware store if the lids from your bottles are missing. 

Uses: Obviously, its really good with cream.  We happen to really like it in hot cocoa on winter nights and in iced coffee on a summer day.  Its also great in baked goods, think brownies, cupcakes, and frosting.  I generally keep a bottle in process at all times, this way I have a good stock for gift giving.

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Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by emphelan

Seed saving is an important part to self reliance. Unfortunately not all the veggies will give you fertile seeds to save. If you didn’t this year, when making your seed selections, look on the tags for a few key clues to what can be saved, and what can not. Anything listed as a GMO (some states don’t require this info) more than likely will not breed-true and will not sprout at all. F1 hybrid, means that this is the first generation of plant that breed true. These are ok to save, but might not give you the same quality as it first did. F2 hybrids should breed true. I know there is a lot of talk out there about how evil hybrids are. Hybrids themselves are not the problem, as many of the vegetables we grow were cross breed with other plants to create what we have. Just take the orange carrot for example. It was a hybrid, true carrots are white, red, purple. But the Dutch created a novelty, and it grew in popularity, now everyone thinks a carrot should be orange. The F1 and F2 symbols state how many generations past a plant was crossbred. Now if you really want to not have to worry about such things, heritage seeds and plants are the way you want to go. Just be careful, as anyone can call anything a heritage and get away from it. Heirlooms are recognized after at least 50-100 years of growth in the same family farm. These will be the ones that many of you will want. Now to the saving part.

Tomatoes are very easy to seed save. It just takes time. Squash out its guts into a canning jar. Fill said jar half way with water. Place in a window and stir it at least once a day. Soon it will mold on top of the water. Carefully skim out the mold and the floating seeds. The seeds at the bottom our your fertile ones. Strain out water and dry the seeds on a piece of scrap paper. Then store in the freezer.

Corn, leave on the cob to fully dry out. You don’t have to remove the kernels if you don’t want to for storage. This is the same for popcorn.

Beans. I allow my beans to dry out on the vines/bush. Harvest and store in the pods.

Sunflowers. Cut off their heads once the flower has died. Hang upside down in a dry area, and cure for a few weeks. Remove the seeds from the head by brushing it with a gloved hand.

Peanuts. dry them in a pair of nylon stocking hanging in a area that is dry, and that a breeze can get to them.

All your squashes and melons just need to be cut open, and the seeds removed, washed and placed in the sun to dry before storing them.

Peppers, I don’t wash and keep them attached to the membrane. Allow to dry in the window this way.

Carrots, cabbage family. The entire plant needs to be dug up gently and placed into a bucket of sand and moved into a green house for the winter. After all signs of frost have passed, plant them back out, and you will be able to harvest seed their second year.

Seed potatoes are your smallest potatoes. Store in a box under your bed. They will be fine.

I think I have covered the basic garden.

When you seed save, make sure you keep a detailed record of what seeds you have, so that you are not replacing the same ones the next year. Craft organizers are good places to store your clearly labeled seeds. You can stored seeds in plastic or like I do it, in used envelopes. Just make sure that they are kept dry and sun free until you want them to sprout.

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Stephany‘s Question: I am curious  what other people who choose the homesteading lifestyle do to achieve balance and not let themselves become overwhelmed by the tremendous amount of work that living this way can entail?

Robbyn’s Answer: We’re not “on” our homestead yet, but are trying to get it set up for the long term.  I’ll answer for our vision of what we ultimately hope to be doing:  we’ll have to keep our limitations in mind because we’re not 20, and we have physical and financial limitations that we don’t see reversing down the road.  One of our main goals is to produce as much of our own food as possible, so as we try to set things up, we’re opting to forgo many things we’d have tried 20 years ago and instead to plan for things we think we’ll be able to sustain for the longer term now.  We don’t want this to be overwhelming to us 100% of the time, though there will surely be plenty of times it will be.  We’re trying to set it up to keep it simple (yes, I hear the homesteaders out there laughing!  😉  )  We won’t be moving to Alaska and hand-hewing our own cabin, though if we were 20 years younger, that’s likely exactly where we’d be.  Some thing we’re trying to do in the set-up stage is 1. ditch the debt 2. learn from others what has worked well for them  3.  learn what we can do without and what we don’t want to do without  4.  plan, keeping our limitations in mind  5.  come up with a “plan” that looks like what we realistically can handle rather than trying to do it all.     I don’t know how balanced that’ll all be when we (hopefully) get some property and are out of debt, but I know those are sort of our own self-imposed guidelines.  We’ll fine-tune as we go, but likely feel overwhelmed a good bit of the time, even if just with the newness of it all, or the unexpected.  One thing we’ll have going for us:  this is something we’re choosing because we want it…no one else is imposing it on us.  Life right now is crazy for us, and often overwhelming.  We’re wanting to have more of our own choices, and we’re swapping dependence for some independence, and along the way trying to keep our priorities at the forefront and Keep It Simple.  We’re able to handle a lot when we know it’s our own choice.  I wonder how I’ll answer this question looking back a few years from now?  🙂

Phelan’s Answer: I will admit up front that I am laughing about being perceived as being balanced. We plan, and organize. Plot and discuss. We have time tables, and to-do -lists, but when it comes down to it, many things happen and you do get overwhelmed. On the Neophyte Homestead we have a rather set schedule when it comes to what work gets done when, but when planting season and harvest season come round, things tend to get thrown up in the air. Many things that are not vital, like housework, get set aside during canning season. Cows get milked and feed 530am and 530 pm, chickens, goats, sheep and horse shortly there after. Kids get up for their morning chores and breakfast, then I do garden work. If it is hot out, inside work, if not, outside work. My day ends anywhere from 9pm to 12am. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are within a 1/2 hour of a scedualed time table. Children showered and to bed happen at the same time every night, no matter what I am doing.  You just have to remind yourself that this is what you want to do, and try to find the humor and happiness whenever you feel like things are getting out of hand. At least, that’s how we try to be here. But I still gritch and get depressed about the massive amount of work I am faced with daily.

Kathie’s Answer: I struggle with balance and I’m coming to believe its a very difficult thing to maintain.  Instead I’m just trying to be very mindful of the choices I’m making and why I’m making them.  I’ve also learned, and this was a tough lesson to grasp, that I just can’t do it all and sometimes I have to let things go.  For me, that’s meant all outside activities (community organizations, etc.) have had to be ditched.  I simply can’t focus on home and garden and preserving and personal goals while taking on outside projects.  If I was better at enforcing my boundaries this wouldn’t be an issue, but I’m an all or nothing kind of gal, and do the same with volunteering which leads to just more overwhelmed days.  I also try to focus on the seasonality of things – summer is jam packed (pun intended) with gardening, harvesting, and canning, but that ends and there’s winter which is much slower for me.  I can spend winter months reading some of the books on the to read list, I can craft, I can sleep in (to 5:30), I have more down time in general.  The interesting thing is that when I focus on this seasonality, things seem a little more doable.  I do get overwhelmed sometimes and I cry and vent and get grouchy but sooner or later, I remind myself that this is my choice and why I’ve chosen it.  Eventually remembering that I’m not “forced” to live this way helps, and in general I do tend to focus on the positive so that helps get me out of any sadness, etc.

Kristine’s Answer: hi stephany!  i am always struggling with this! there is so much i want and need to do and so little time, especially with a toddler in the picture.  one thing that helps out is having the older kids do their fair share of the work. each is in charge of a specific animal section and has to do everything from tethering goats to watering and feeding to gathering eggs and cleaning and candling them. i still have to remind them to do it everyday but its better than having to do it myself (which i have to do when they are at their other parent’s houses).  they are also required to do rotating indoor chores such as dishes, tidying up the downstairs rooms (kitchen, dining room, play room and living room), their own bedrooms and their own laundry.  we also employee wwoofers during the summer months. it is a great way to get much needed help w/o having to pay since their payment is room and board. so far, the majority of them have been a lifesaver.  also, i am the to do list queen. i have a binder that has a section for each day of the week. i have set tasks each day such as focus on cleaning 1 room of the house (dust, mop, vacuum, wash blankets, sheets, throws, pillows or whatever) each day of the week. i don’t always get to it but it helps on my expectations of a clean house. other set tasks include my friday egg packing and truck loading(for selling at market on saturday), ironing shirts for greg (ugh! i hate ironing) laundry (always something needs washing) and gardening.  besides the daily/weekly set tasks, i make a list of any phone calls i need to make the following day along with all the info (phone numbers, account numbers, etc) so that it’s all in 1 place and can be handled
quickly. phone calls are a luxury around here with noisy little ones afoot. i also write down any other thing that i need to do that isn’t part of a general routine such as worming the sheep and goats or processing fruits and veggies or berry picking. my list gets full pretty quickly and if i don’t finish it in a day, i move it down to the next day. i’m not a fanatic about housecleaning. i try to make sure everything is tidy but really deep cleaning doesn’t exist here. having the kids do the work isn’t always the best way to get it done but it is livable. my mom cringes whenever she comes around (my standard of cleanliness and hers are in two different directions) but she doesn’t come over often so i don’t have to deal with her comments much.  since my little two are up when i get up and generally stay that way until i go to bed, free time really isn’t an option. i do try to keep a book checked out from the library to read a snippet of during a rare bath or in the evening if they unexpectedly decide to go to sleep a bit early. i have put a lot of my ‘fun’ hobbies (i consider my animals a hobby even though they are here for a stronger purpose than my enjoyment) on hold until the little ones are older such as knitting and spinning. i know someday, there will be time again.  i think the key is to decide what is most important in your life and what is fluff. we are hermits and don’t get out much. we don’t dine out much and i can’t remember when we went out to see a movie last. i do check out dvds from the library to watch, a little too often these days since i’ve found it distracts everyone and gives me a bit of alone time in the evenings. but we don’t do a lot of social events simply because we have so much to do around here that we don’t make them a priority. because of that, we have few true friends who understand our lifestyle and don’t demand a lot of our time. that suits us. our handful of friends are living similar lives on some level and we are able to do work days where we trade off jobs and work together to help do projects such as fence building and shed building.  we are constantly behind on our projects and always working to put out fires which tells me we really aren’t balanced! but, we love our lifestyle and i think when you love something enough, you are willing to put up with a lot of things to maintain that love. if i hated this lifestyle and were only doing it because i felt it wouldn’t be an option in 5 or 10 more years, i’d be miserable and would have quit a long time ago.  it does get discouraging at times but when i start thinking of downsizing or moving back ‘to town’ i realize that would be more discouraging and suddenly, things look a lot brighter! i know i could never go back to the consumeristic lifestyle without being miserable and just knowing that is usually enough to keep me going.

Gina’s Answer: Stephany, For me, trying not to get overwhelmed by the homesteading work is never my issue. What may seem like tedious or hard work is actually something I love. Imbalance seems to come from not being able to do as much as I would like due to outside forces: mainly outside work. I work a forty hour job on top of my homesteading stuff and it consumes much of my energy, time, money and creativity. I feel like I am bi-furcated between two worlds. The first is the one I wish I could dedicate myself to fulltime, one where I knew my energy was actually being recycled back for the good of my family and my own well-being (e.g. all the hard work creating the gardens produces food for winter self-sufficiency) . The other world, however, is the one where I have to maintain a mainstream “professional” persona and one I feel takes the most productive part of my day, at least for now, because I am basically farmed out for someone else’s greater good (e.g. the work I do supports other people and my small paycheck is really the only part I receive for my work).  Ultimately, these two worlds clash rather than compliment each other and I find myself depressed my the never-ending piles of work both in my ideal lifestyle and the one I find myself trapped in currently. I am not efficient at domestic things and, if I am in charge, the house can quickly become inhabitable. I am fortunate because I have a mother-in-law that is a ‘neat freak’ and comes over and helps me maintain the house chores. I also make lists for both DH and I to follow, although we often fail to get anything done. DH works away from home most of the week too and I am shouldered with a large portion of the responsibilities like budgeting, housework, feeding and caring for the animals, weeding the garden, caring for the children, etc. Normally, all of these chores could be managed if it were not for my regular job. However, the job is helping us get out of debt.  We also don’t want our children to have memories of parents that were always burning both ends of a candle. We have been trying to do some fun things like go to the library or park in town, attend historical events (these also have a side benefit of illustrating old homesteading techniques), primitive camping, hiking, etc. Lately, our life has been quite hectic and we actually need to do some of these things!  I actually am working on a household/farm notebook (ok, I’ve been working on this thing for three years-don’t tell anyone! 😉 I hope to incorporate more desirable goals, timetables and inspiration to help me feel less burdened by what I love (and despise) and more inclined to see something get completed. I think getting it out of my head is rule number one because it is my head that tends to make the work of it all seem much harder and overwhelming. I also need to remind myself constantly not to be overcritical of myself (and this is hard to do for me) and allow myself to have leeway when the outside work is particularly demanding or unsatisfying or something doesn’t get done at the expense of something else. It is a lesson in progress for me.  Sometimes, I have the “talk” with DH about downsizing to a smaller lot and letting go of my dream lifestyle. When I do think about giving up, I feel a sense of panic. This is the worst or the worse imbalance for me. I don’t want to go back; I want to progress back to a simple life. It is not the homesteading life I want to give up, it’s the other aspects I want to change to allow me to better follow my dreams. I’ve also been sharing aspects of my life with others (I’ve always been a little on the private side) and I am noting the positive reactions which helps me feel I am on the right path.

Monica’s Answer: Balanced life! hahaha.  No really, I think that is something everyone, not just homesteaders, struggles with. Though I will admit as a homesteader it does seem that we have more to do than most people and admittedly at certain times of the year–WAY too much! However, here is how my husband and I deal with it. First, though we don’t completely rely on our children (ours our older with jobs) they do still have certain things expected of them that helps. Not so much that they have a full time work here—but enough to help out. Mowing, cleaning, picking up, feeding animals are all things any age kid can
successfully do that helps immensely. If we didn’t have kids to pick up the slack, we would just leave some of it undone. Especially things like making beds and folding cloths—-things that are o.k to leave off to the side undone for days if need be. Only your spouse’s mom might get upset by it. Another thing we do is make ourselves take off at least one half of one day every few weekends at a time when we could be working. Sometimes it’s Friday evening, sometimes it’s Saturday mid-afternoon or morning. Sometimes Sunday evening. We haven’t always done this but have found over the years we need to take these mini breaks if for no other reason than balance in our life. Why? because we will work until we drop. And no matter that you feel that you just have to get it all done NOW—it will never be fully finished. That’s the name of the game. If we think about it logically, we have to choose which is most important because there is really no way to ever get to the end. It is life after all.  When we take our time off we try and do things not related at all to this homesteading life. We meet friends that have no homesteading interests or play pool or see a moving, go to the park, hike, go window shopping at the mall, etc. Though we do occasionally travel to places like historic farms for vacations (and we would love to go to the Rodale research farm), we try not to have our time off be a day of searching for mulch or hanging out at the farm store or home depot—because really that is no break at all and is kind of like eating lunch at the office desk.  We also try and pay attention to how much enjoyment we get out of the various projects we do. If we find that we particularly dislike doing something we find another member of the family who likes it. If we find we all hate it…well, we talk about how important it is to us as a couple and/or family and debate on continuation or cancellation.
Usually these debates make us realize we were bashing our head against a post instead of doing things that make life worthwhile.  Lastly, so what if we don’t get all the corn seed in today? Well, maybe there is tomorrow. And if not…we can do it next week or later.  If we do it later we look at it as “successive sowing” not “falling behind”. It’s a mental distinction I know—but one I try and remember–though I am not always successful. I do fret sometimes as everyone does.  So, to sound like a yogi let me say life is about living and enjoying every day. I personally try and remember that life is not a goal.  Because after all there is no “end” goal…no finish line…no stopping point….the goal is everyday and every moment. It’s all a mental thing—and that itself requires work everyday to remember! 😀

Have a question for our panel?  Please email that question to mtkatiecakes@yahoo.com and we’ll answer it on a Friday soon.

Interested in contributing to Women in Not Dabbling In Normal?  We will have spots for guest writers now and then.  If you’re interested in contributing an article, please email mtkatiecakes@yahoo.com and let us know, be sure to include your blog address as well.

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when a lot of people talk about sustainable lifestyles and homesteading, they seem to always include a few animals in the mix. and why not? animals are great. you can eat them, their milk and eggs, use their wool and skin for clothing, they are quite versatile.

but while people talk about how they are raising their own animals for all these things to be more sustainable, they also talk about buying their feed at the local feed store. we currently do this too but i see something seriously wrong with this picture: you cannot be sustainable if you cannot feed what you eat. period. if the feed stores went under, many homesteaders would be forced to give up their livestock.

this year, we have started taking steps to change this. we currently live on 4 1/2 acres. 1/2 acre is in orchard, 1/2 in herb and veggie gardens, 1/2 is currently being farmed by the farmer and probably a good 1/2 – 3/4 is in out buildings and our house. that leaves roughly 2 1/2 acres for 7 sheep, 10 goats 25 broilers, 3 turkeys and 60+ laying hens. we realize we are overloaded in animals and are downsizing. if need be, a friend is willing to house our overflow on 20 acres of pasture and woods. they have always raised sheep on it and are short on sheep right now. but, the ones that will stay here need to eat.

we are putting about 1-2 acres into hay pasture and will practice rotational grazing and harvesting the hay, an idea i discovered on nita’s awesome blog, throwback at trapper creek (if you don’t read her blog, you should, she is a wonderful writer). part of it is existing pasture and part is the area the farmer used that we are taking over this fall. the sheep, goats and chickens will be allowed to graze the pasture all day long to provide the majority of their feed requirements from about march/april through november/december. 

also, we are going back to earlier times and working on relying on root crops for fodder instead of grains. next week, we will start planting: kale, kohlrabi, parsnips, beets, rutabagas, chard, turnips and carrots. most should overwinter in the garden with a layer of mulch, straw or leaves over them. we can just harvest a row or two at a time, chop and feed as necessary. i also grow sunchokes which are supposedly loved by them as well. next year, i hope to be more successful at growing winter squash (the vine borers got them all this year) to feed as well. the next 2-3 years, i’ll grow as large a variety as possible. i’ll take note on what the animals prefer (we’ll be feeding sheep, goats and chickens and possibly pigs next year) and what grows the best and then pare it down to about 3-4 crops that do well in both aspects.

occasionally, we hope to also grow crops such as black sunflower seeds, oats, soybeans and corn to have some treats for them as well. we have grown our own wheat before in small manageable patches that we can harvest by hand. our garden area fluctuates and we can adapt it as we need to. we have several sectioned off areas that would benefit from having a steady crop instead of allowing the ragweed, japanese hops and bindweed and morning glories to proliferate.

the great thing is, all these crops are things we humans like as well so we too can partake in the crops. it will give us a bigger variety in our winter diets and give our animals a nutritious supplement to hay that we can provide ourselves instead of relying on the feed store to provide. in doing so, we close the circle on sustainability.

i know it’s impossible to be 100% sustainable but if i can get to 80%, the rest is gravy!

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No, this isn’t a post about throwing in the trowel…it’s about looking right under our noses for the edible plants most often thought of as weeds, and instead to begin understanding them as food.  What are the hardiest, most tenacious, weatherproof and enduring of plants?  Weeds, grasses, trees…the things that grow right in our yards, fencerows, disturbed sites, roadsides…and ditches.  The very plants that Roundup seems to have been invented to eradicate.

What if we found ways to see these places as a greater extended garden, and found ways to harvest and use the bounty just underfoot?

Most of us are aware that herbs are about the closest plants to their wilder cousins whose categorization summarily gets lumped together under the all-encompassing term “weeds.”  I suppose the main difference between the two designations is perception…some plants are perceived as being useful to humans, while others are perceived (or have become so in our times) as being pests.  (The same could be said about insects…they’re usually either perceived as friend or foe.)

It seems these less popular grasses and herbs…weeds…have real staying ability.  They survive their own unpopularity and grow right where nature wants them…and often where we do not.  They are the hardiest of survivors, thriving despite mowers, herbicides, neglect, drought, temperature extremes, waterlogging.  They have a reputation of appearing on the scene in just the places we had other ideas of their belonging.  With their vigor and determination, you’d think we’d find a way to utilize and appreciate them.   Recently, I’ve discovered that throughout history, “weeds” have been utilized in delicious ways by many peoples, and oftentimes depended upon as dietary staples.

I’ve very curious about food that can be harvested from the wild.  I never got to be a girlscout, but I think I’d have loved it if it meant traipsing through the woods and learning to identify trees and plants, finding what’s edible and avoiding what’s poisonous.  I love the Foxfire books for their record of similar skills and disappearing traditional wisdom.  I ran across some quotes from Linda Runyon and recently was able to purchase her book The Essential Wild Food Survival Guide, which used to be titled something along the lines of Crabgrass Muffins and Pine Needle Tea.  She had me at Crabgrass Muffins …

Reading some of the online descriptions of the book (prior to ordering) further captivated my imagination, especially when I read a list of weeks that have edible uses.  Among those was the mention of cattails, and I got pretty excited because we have about a straight mile of those in our back ditch. 

I was also excited because I can easily identify them, unlike other plants.  (I’m just not all that plant-educated yet.)  I also can easily identify the cattail’s poisonous look-alike  (yellow flag plant) and avoid it.  (IMPORTANT NOTE:  With ANY plant harvested from the wild, being SURE of correct identification is a MUST…when in doubt, leave it alone.  Never taste or serve plants unless absolutely sure it’s correctly identified and researched…some plants have edible and inedible parts.  I’m not going to mess with plants that have any poisonous part.)

Linda’s writing refers to cattails as the “supermarket plant of the swamp”…and in her book she shows how they can be harvested (or harvested from) at different stages throughout the year for eating raw, pickled, steamed, boiled, ground into flour, as a baking additive (the pollen), as well as for handmade items (baskets, torches, etc.)  I ordered the book, then waited.

But my cattails in the ditch called to me.  They reminded me that the County likes to cut them all down right to the roots at different times of the year.  So during my wait for the Wild Foods book to arrive, I decided to try my hand at harvesting a few cattails.  It was time to experiment!

I saw a homemade video online that demonstrated how to harvest them by reaching down into the individual cattail and grasping the main shoot (the straight part) and simply pulling upward, which dislodges the central stalk without pulling the plant loose from its roots.  This method leaves the outer leaves intact, and they can regrow.  The video showed the plant being cut at the point where the white stalk section ends and the green begins.  So off I went to tromp in the ditch…

I’m not a big fan of surprise snakes and ankle-gnawing critters, so I trod gingerly into the standing water and knee-deep grasses, not quite the fearless Marlon Perkins I thought I’d be.  I didn’t even go very far in, but gathered from the nearest side, which was plenty wet and snaky without fully committing myself to the wild things.  One thousand mosquito bites later, I emerged from the edge of the ditch (I wouldn’t venture further without some sturdy rubber boots) with a handful of cattails…enough to experiment with before trying a bigger harvest. 

I did as the video had instructed and trimmed the stalks where the white parts became green.  The green went into the compost, and the white parts were hosed down and then washed more thoroughly in my kitchen.

This picture is a close-up.  I cut the white stalks into small lengths, hoping I’d harvested them the right time of year.  I’m looking for what’s described in the instructions as the pith…the inner edible heart of the stalk, said to be good raw, steamed, or sauteed.  These seemed to me to be woody, but I tasted an end anyway.  It couldn’t be bitten through, but the taste was very clean and mild and vegetable.  Rather like clean cucumber, no slimeyness.  I though I’d try to soften it by sauteeing it slowly in just a touch of olive oil, pinch of salt, dash of pepper.

Touch of olive oil…

Salt and pepper.   Mmmmmm…

This is the point at which the outer sections began separating from the innermost.

The outer sections are as tough as corn husks.  I was at a loss to tell what part was the inner pith just by looking at it, even at the cut sections.  I picked up a section and bit down.  It was husk-y, except for a very thin pencil-like core.

Sorry, it’s out of focus, but you can see it if you squint.  That little cylindrical interior piece was…delicious! 

I have no idea if harvesting them at a different time of year would yield a far bigger piece, or if you have to harvest a whole bunch of stalks at a time.  I suspect I’m off-season at least somewhat, since Florida has a strangely-prolonged climate. 

The flavor of the cattail interior was that of a roasted vegetable, and distinct, like the flavor of leek or garlic or onion is distinct.  I found it simply delicious, with a mild flavor like a grilled plank of zucchini or roasted shallots…hard to put your finger on, but quite mild and enjoyable.  I’d imagine most palates would like it…there was no grassy or herbal flavor to it, no strange texture.  When sauteed, it was similar to the consistency of roasted garlic.  It was not highly aromatic and would not overwhelm any particular dish, I’d imagine.  If I can’t determine how to harvest enough of the piths at the correct time, I will play with using the stalks in clear soups as a flavoring much like leeks or onions, and then removing them before serving.

A day or so after my cattail experiment, my book arrived, hooray!!!  (I’ve read it cover-to-cover several times now…blissful sigh!)  I’m overwhelmed with the variety of “weeds” that are nutritious and so available!  Included on the list are birch catkins, blue asters, chamomile, red and white clover, dandelions, fireweed, goldenrod, maple flower buds and seed pods, meadowsweet, milkweed, mint,mustard, pine, prickly pear, queen anne’s lace, roses, thyme, and wintercress.

It’s important to know that several of these have “lookalikes” that are poisonous…I’m reiterating the importance of correct identification.  That’s why I’ll be sticking to the ones I’m SURE I know…for now, cattails, clover, mint, pine, maple and so on.  Plants such as queen anne’s lace and goldenrod MUST be distinguished from their lookalikes.  The book gives a lot of pointers about the differences.  Another caution is to avoid environmentally-polluted plants.  The book advises never harvesting any plants closer to a road than 200 feet, or from water or land areas with runoff that would harbor pesticides, herbicides or other pollutants.  My ditch, thankfully, has no pollution tainting it as yet.

This hunt-and-discovery process should be a continous source of some fun, food, and hopefully a storehouse of nutritious pantry items with no worry about shortages.   Did you know that clover can be dried and ground into flour?  did you know that 5 large clover leaves are said to have as much protein as an ounce of cheese?  I’m not writing this post as a pitch for this book, but I am delighted to find an entire section of it devoted to recipes incorporating “weeds” as the stars of the show!  Breads, noodles, salads, sautees, flavorings, desserts, teas, cold drinks and hot drinks, wines, vinegars, oils, soups…the list goes on and on.  

Now when I see my yard, I see salads, flours, and soups, and when I see my back ditch, I see a garden of possibilities.  Maybe some small part of solving a food availability shortage would be learning not to overlook the “weeds,” and rather than dousing them with herbicides, mining nature’s nutritional pantry….surely the best sort of “roundup!”

What’s in your yard, fencerow, ditch??

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 Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by Gina

Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.       ~Cree Indian Proverb 


When we think of our gardens, we picture sun-ripened tomatoes, silky-haired sweet corn, or even friendly faced sunflowers. We rarely give thought to one of the most important members of our “green’ community: The humble tree.

Oh, sure we plant the fruit trees because their bounty is easy to define. Who doesn’t love a sugary peach or tart plum? Even the nut trees have their usefulness as food providers and wildlife attractants. But what about the others, the silent majority of trees?

In the job I do outside my little home, I work for the trees. I help seek out harmful organisms that could wipe out entire species of trees (nearly everyday a new exotic is discovered). It’s a difficult battle, one that makes you feel you are constantly on losing ground. Mostly, I work in a remote way with commercial operations which rate the importance of trees by board feet and toughness of the species in lumber and not necessarily by the virtues or magic of a particular species (or group of species) . I do understand those aspects of forestry; I still prefer a product composed of wood (sustainable) over plastic or even metal. I also see first hand that the lumber industry creates useful by-products like wood mulch for the garden or for paper and fuel. Most sawmills I know heat their businesses strictly from the cut-offs and slab wood of the trees they process into building materials.

Of course, don’t get me wrong, without bringing the politics into this, I do not advocate everything they do, such as cut baby red oaks and beech trees before they mature, buy up all the forested lands in an area, and clear-cut. I’ve seen first-hand the damage they do to sensitive eco-systems with their loaders and big trucks.

A year or so ago, I was chatting with one of my clients about the degradation of Midwestern forests. He mentioned how sad he was that he had to cut 10-inch diameter oaks or hard maple (that‘s a baby!), especially when it entailed yet another subdivision. He claimed he only did it because if he didn’t someone else would.

So, in a round about way, what I am asking is that we all give trees a thought when you are planning out your gardens. Be sure to plant a variety (diversity) of tree species, not just the ones you find directly useful. All trees have a use be it for shade, wind break, fruit & nuts, animal feed (goats love silver maple & ash leaves), fuel, building materials, wildlife protection, aesthetics, or just plain history. A mature oak has born before your great-grandfather. If a tree must be lost in order for a sun-loving garden to grow, think about a replacement. Many trees are naturally small like rowan, ash, or crabapple. Others are slow growing and will take years to shade out your garden: Oak, sugar maple, beech (my personal favorite) and will grow into heirloom trees.

Be sure to think about toxicity, species like walnut, red oak and pine are high in certain chemicals and can create a hostile environment for other plants. Black walnut, for example, produces juglone which can kill tomatoes, blackberries, and even apples within two months if planted in it’s root zone (50-60 feet diameter). Certainly don’t discriminate against these guys–just give them their own room. They will still be useful to you and the world they grow in (think tree houses, strong wood bones, windbreaks, medicine and nuts).

If you follow the line of thought that times could be tough indeed in our near future, trees are one of the things we should all be “banking” on. They give us so much with little demand in return (a little protection, water and fertilizer in their infancy). In the longer term, trees are an investment that is not only more dependable, but offers more value than any CD, savings account or Wall Street could ever give in dividends.

Cheap Ways to Invest in Trees:

  • Join the Arbor Day Foundation and take them up on the free trees (I planted one crabapple on my tiny urban lot about six years ago from ADF. She now towers over the house); however, be forewarned, you‘ll receive tons of junk mail from them (making you ponder whether planting a few seedlings is worth the tree loss in paper).
  • Check with your local county extension offices or the Soil & Water Districts to see if they have annual tree sales (mine do and offer wildlife packages or flowering tree packages).
  • Gather nuts or seeds in the autumn and create a seed bed. Look for areas of historical interest and collect seeds from mature trees. Then you can say you have the offspring of the tree that saw such and such event.
  • Look at your area nurseries and even big box stores for end-of-the-year clearances as Kathie suggested (I’ve bought many fruit trees this way and gave them a little extra care).
  • Dig up the volunteers in your garden and move them to areas better suited.
  • If at all possible, move the garden to another location if faced with losing a robust tree. Think of that tree as important as your homestead structures. If the tree has to go (and often, trees have to go), consider “saving” part of the tree in stored lumber (portable sawmill).
  • Learn all you can about the species you plant and be sure to care for them properly.
  • Inventory the trees on your property (or immediate community if urban) and research how that tree can benefit your life (e.g. fruit tree, medicinal properties, good building material, easy to coppice, etc.). I’d be happy to help if you need some information in this area.
  • Above all, respect & honor trees as important members of our Earth community!

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